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Protectors at the Gate

  • By Mark Gordon
  • | 1:54 a.m. June 13, 2014
  • | 2 Free Articles Remaining!
  • Strategies
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The headline-grabbing data security breach at Target late last year was a mere driblet to cyber security expert and former National Security Agency defense contractor John Jorgensen.

The infiltration, which pilfered data from at least 40 million debit and credit cards, was obviously a big deal. But Jorgensen, CEO of the Sylint Group, a fast-growing Sarasota-based cyber security and digital data forensics firm, says the real issue is deeper, and scarier.

It's his belief that hackers, cyber thieves and all around no-good doers now target small and medium-sized businesses, not just global companies like Target or aluminum behemoth Alcoa. Going small, for one, increases the amount of possible victims. Also, smaller firms are less likely to have advanced cyber security systems — not that being big helped Target, Alcoa, or, most recently, eBay.

“Small businesses are getting hammered mercilessly,” says Jorgensen. “This is a real problem right now. We've seen more attacks on small and mid-size businesses than we've ever seen before.”

Jorgensen and his team cite a multitude of examples. In most cases the perpetrators are organized groups, Jorgensen says, not script kiddies, hacker slang for cyber breach novices. Jorgensen says law firms he knows and has worked with have reported cyber attacks on escrow accounts. The Sylint Group also currently works with a three-employee e-commerce business in California that reported a breach on its credit cards system.

Cyber security, while a challenge for small businesses, has boosted Sylint Group sales. The firm, which Jorgensen founded in 1999, has more than doubled revenues and employees over the last five years, to around $3.2 million in 2013 and a payroll of 20 people. Jorgensen says he could hire up to 10 more people today to meet new potential work, if he could find the right employees.

One recent hire, vice president of corporate development Jeff Birnbach, is developing a curriculum to teach cyber security techniques to local law enforcement personnel, government officials and, eventually, small business owners. Another recent hire is Charly Shugg, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general who ran a cyber security unit in the military. A Sarasota native based everywhere from Tokyo to San Antonio with the Air Force, Shugg was named COO of Sylint in 2012.

Jorgensen points out that a chunk of the growth at Sylint also comes from data forensics work, another niche. The firm uses specialized computers, made in-house, that trace another computer's history, almost all the way back to the assembly line where the first chip was installed. The company works mostly for law firms on the plaintiff side of civil cases of alleged computer malfeasance, from employee theft to stolen trade secrets. Jorgensen says the Sylint Group has handled at least 1,000 cases nationwide.

While that side of the business grows, cyber security maintains a high sense of urgency for the firm. It recently signed a partnership with a New York-based IT services company to take on outsourced cyber security work. The Sylint Group is also in the final stages of a potential new business launch, where it will sell the proprietary cyber security software it uses with clients. That entity, Jorgensen says, “may become bigger than Sylint.”

One constant obstacle the firm faces, executives say, is to make believers out of possible clients, a group of harried and sometimes hardened entrepreneurs. The news of the day in global cyber security, says Jorgensen, only goes so far. “Convincing people that this is serious stuff is hard,” Jorgensen says. “No company wants to be disclosed as being hacked.”

Follow Mark Gordon on Twitter @markigordon


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